Changing Planet

Rare Cat Captured in Camera Trap

Scientists in the U.K. have caught the elusive Borneo bay cat (Pardofelis badia) on camera, along with four other rare species of felines.

Cats are notoriously secretive, and the Borneo bay cat is no exception. But this feline is more mysterious than most. Fewer than 2,500 of them are thought to exist on Borneo (map), the third largest island in the world, and the only place where the cats are known to live. Rarely spotted by scientists and locals, the cats were first photographed in 2003.

Bay cats have rich chestnut fur and tails that are roughly 14 inches (35 centimeters) long. Their bodies are around 24 inches (60 centimeters) long, and they weigh between 6.5 and 8.8 pounds (3-4 kilograms). Because so few of these cats have been captured or measured, researchers say that these are still just estimates.

Although researchers know that bay cats are nocturnal, they still don’t know much about their eating or mating habits, nor about their life span. (Also see “Rare African Golden Cat Caught in Camera Trap.”

Oliver Wearn, a Ph.D. student at Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London, and Robert Ewers, also from Imperial College London, didn’t set out in search of the rare Borneo bay cat.

Their goal was to see whether any types of felids were still living in the Kalabakan Forest Reserve in Malaysian Borneo. This reserve had been heavily logged in the past, and it was unclear whether larger mammals could survive there.

Tracking Cats

Wearn, Ewers, and their colleagues placed 135 cameras randomly around the reserve on the northern edge of the island. Each camera recorded for an average of 49 nights, giving them 6,650 nights of data. Using cameras allowed the researchers to gather more information without scaring off any of the already skittish animals.

“The cameras record multiple sightings, sometimes of species which we might be very lucky to see even after spending years in an area. For example, I’ve seen the clouded leopard just twice in three years of fieldwork, whilst my cameras recorded 14 video sequences of this enigmatic cat in just eight months,” Wearn said in a statement.

Besides the rare bay cat, the scientists reported yesterday in PLOS ONE that they also spotted the Sunda clouded leopard, leopard cat, flat-headed cat, and marbled cat. The Kalabakan Forest Reserve has become only the fourth location on Borneo where all five species of wild cat can be found. (Also see “Rare Footage of Snow Leopards Caught by Mountain Yak Herder.”)

Wearn and Ewers say that it’s a good sign these cats can survive in logged forests. With some of these species listed as endangered, and commercial logging threatening much of their natural habitat, their ability to survive after logging has occurred gives them a better chance at maintaining healthy population levels. (Learn about National Geographic’s big cats initiative.)

“Conservationists used to assume that very few wild animals can live in logged forest, but we now know this land can be home for many endangered species,” Ewers said in the statement.

“Our study today shows solid evidence that even large carnivores, such as these magnificent bay cats, can survive in commercially logged forests.”

Tell us: Have you ever spotted a rare wild cat?

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Carrie is a freelance science writer living in Virginia. When she's not writing about cool critters, she's spending time outside, drinking coffee, or knitting. You can visit her website at
  • Michael

    A lynx with two cubs. Was able to watch them for a couple minutes as the mom tried to scurry the playing cubs into the forest. Something I will never forget!

    • Carrie Arnold

      I wouldn’t forget it, either. I would have loved to see that.

  • Michael angus

    I spotted a Leopard cat on the edge of Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia, on the edge of a Palm Oil plantation. My dad also claim to have seen a large black cat near Kingussie, Scotland.

    • Carrie Arnold

      Wow! That must have been an amazing sight. I’ve seen some mountain lions while hiking, but never a leopard–maybe someday!

  • Hern√°n enrique

    In ipad cant view..

  • eddie chia

    The location of Kelabakan is south east of Sabah(North Borneo) its true heavy logging and Palm oil platation happening there, the only reserved and protected area within Kelabakan is Maliau Basin ( the lost world) so chances are these cats might end up in Maliau Basin as safest place to be hopefully more research have been done on this Borneo bay cat. the potential of discovering new species of animal in Borneo island is really exciting ūüôā thanks for the info

  • Riesta

    Hey, that was awesome cat, that’s is very rare cat. All my life i’ve never seen this cat before in Borneo. Except the Orangutans and Bekantan.
    Wonder if you have ever see the Pesut Mahakam (Orcaella Brevirostris) or fresh-water Dolphin, that’s fairly rare too.

  • Akanksha

    how does one distinguish between a jungle cat and a feral cat? we caught one on one of our camera traps but are undecided whether it is a jungle cat or a feral one.

  • Eirinn

    When I lived on the East Coast, there was a wash that ran past our house. My son and I would sit on the steps on summer evenings and listen to the coyotes howl back and forth, across the valley — and usually howl along with them ^_^

    This one local bobcat would often slink down along the wash, stop about 40 feet away, sit down… and “sing” along.

    I’d also encountered mountain lions, when living in UT. They would sit along a low ridge and watch us curiously when my cousin and I would go out for night excursions.

  • Shelley nagle

    The harvesting of Palm oil is killing everything.

  • L.D. Garcia

    We should conserve resources as they are slowly disappearing, same for any endangered species. We should not only take notice on the endangered, but on every animal. It hurts to see that they are killed only for money.

  • Axel

    ese felino es muy parecido al puma

  • Janco

    I have photographed all 7 big cats in the wild: lion, tiger, leopard, puma, jaguar and snowleopard.
    But I think most difficult cats were: blackfooted cat (Namibia) & geoffreys cat (Argentina)
    please take a look at my website: for pictures of all cats I have seen and photographed in the wild

  • Rosalba

    The cat is jaguarundi

  • Nick mcphee

    This year I have been lucky enough to see 7 jaguars , a puma and ocelot in Kaa iya national park Bolivia the place is amazing.
    My pics are on the website

    Here is a video of a female jaguar we filmed last month too

  • jj farrell

    I find it encouraging that these animals can survive in logged and degraded environments. I also fear that this news will embolden and encourage the loggers and palm oil growers to continue to rape the environment. Why it may be true that these animals are more resilient than previously thought, what we do not know is if the degraded environment adversely affects reproduction and hunting success. Does a degraded forest possess enough quality habitat to offset the increased pressures such as poaching and hunting of prey animals. What of the specialist animals that can not adapt to a logged forest? From the sound of the article, there really is no place else other than this degraded habitat for the animals to live.

  • Julia Dawn Mason

    The Bengal Bay Cat looks like a miniature Florida Panther.

  • Ocho Verde

    Here is a short video of some Jaguarundi we saw on the camera trap.:

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